Canada’s keys unlocking a trip to World Cup 2022

Canadian Soccer fans

Canada’s keys unlocking a trip to World Cup 2022

A long wait for Canada

The time has finally arrived for fans of the Canadian men’s national team. Canadians have known for years how respected their women’s national team has been. The Olympic gold medalists provided Canadians with their greatest ever soccer victory just a few months ago. Back in 2014, Canada’s men’s team fell to their lowest ever position in the FIFA world rankings at 122. While the women’s team was winning Olympic medals, the men’s side was left scratching their heads. This article examines the key players in Canada’s meteoric rise in world football, helping qualify them for the World Cup.

The influence of Coach John Herdman

After winning bronze medals with Canada’s women’s team at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, John Herdman accepted a new challenge. In January 2018, Herdman was hired to coach Canada’s men’s team, ranked 94th in the world. Coaching Canada’s men’s side would be no easy feat, considering they were ranked 10th in CONCACAF when Herdman took over. After four years in charge, Herdman has turned things around for Canada. Herdman has qualified Canada for their first World Cup since 1986 while finishing first in CONCACAF. 

Alphonso Davies and Canada’s first soccer superstars

Alphonso Davies

Alphonso Davies of Canada’s men’s national team. Photo by Nathan Holowaty for Top World Football

Alphonso Davies made his professional start with the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2016 and quickly outgrew MLS. Davies was sold to Bayern Munich following the 2018 season, for an MLS record transfer fee worth around $22 million USD. Alphonso Davies arrived on the scene of Canada’s men’s national team in 2017. Already scoring goals for Canada in the 2017 Gold Cup at age 16, Canadian soccer fans knew he was something special. Davies has won everything possible in club soccer with Bayern Munich, including the FIFA Club World Cup in February 2021. Davies has also been named to the FIFPro World 11 as the world’s greatest left-back. Unfortunately, a case of myocarditis has left Davies off the squad during the last two qualifying windows. For all Alphonso Davies brings to the table, Canada has somehow thrived in his absence.  

The arrival of Jonathan David

Jonathan David, Forward for Canada. World Cup Qualifying Match in Edmonton, AB, Canada

Jonathan David of Canada’s men’s national team. Photo by Nathan Holowaty for Top World Football

Johnathan David 22, played his first international match in August 2018, enjoying a spectacular run for Canada ever since. In 2019 David was named Canadian Men’s Player of the Year after scoring a record eight goals that year. Along with Alphonso Davies, David was nominated as CONCACAF player of the year. It’s a huge accomplishment for Canada, to have two of the six men nominated for that award. David is one of the top goal scorers in France’s Ligue 1, and earlier this season was leading the league in scoring. After helping Lille win Ligue 1 in May, getting Lille into the UEFA Champions League, bigger European clubs started taking notice. His estimated market value of around 55 million euros, is unheard of for a Canadian player. He will likely make a move at the end of the season to one of Europe’s most elite clubs. Check out this spectacular goal he scored in World Cup qualifying against Honduras.

The emergence of the Canadian squad at the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup

Going into the Gold Cup this past summer, Canada was looking good with the possibility of Davies and David in the lineup. However, due to injuries, Canada’s best two players would not participate in the tournament. Not expecting much without them, the Canadian team could have folded. Unrelenting, other players stepped up their game, and the spirit shaping Canada’s 2021 World Cup qualifying campaign was unleashed. Allowing other players to shine outside the spotlight of Davies and David at the Gold Cup was a revelation for Canada.

Tajon Buchanan

Debuting for the national team on June 5, Tajonn Buchanan age 23, appeared in 16 competitive matches for Canada in 2021. Buchanan’s first goal was the equalizer in Canada’s Gold Cup semi-final match against Mexico. Although Mexico would advance with a 90th-minute winner, Canada proved to themselves they could challenge without Davies and David. Buchanan ended up winning the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup Best Young Player Award at the tournament. The arrival of Buchanan provided substantial depth in Canada’s attack throughout their World Cup qualifying campaign. He’s recently made a move from MLS side New England Revolution to Club Brugge in Belgium. Buchanan’s play throughout the World Cup qualifying campaign has been outstanding. Many considered him man of the match in Canada’s 4-0 World Cup qualification clinching victory over Jamaica. Buchanan’s speedy feet make up for a lot of what is missed while Alphonso Davies recovers from myocarditis. 

Tajon Buchanan, of the Canadian men's national team

Tajon Buchanan, Canada’s men’s national team. Photo by Nathan Holowaty for Top World Football

Stephen Eustaquio

Earning his way into the starting 11 in 2021, Stephen Eustaquio age 25, played a huge role for Canada at the Gold Cup. Scoring three goals in four matches for Canada at the tournament, Eustaquio was fantastic in his central midfield role. Eustaquio thrives on taking important free-kicks and sending in dangerous crosses for Canada. In November’s WCQ match against Costa Rica, Eustaquio sent in a cross, subsequently bobbled by the keeper, leading to the game’s only goal. Four days later against Mexico, another Eustaquio cross, this time from a free-kick, led to another goal for Canada. Estaquio floated the ball perfectly onto the path of Cyle Larin to tap in for Canada’s second goal, and eventual winner of that match. Eustaquio caught the eye of Portugal’s top club FC Porto, who’ve recently arranged his services from rival Portuguese side Pacos de Ferreira.

Stephen Eustaquio of Canada's men's national team.

Stephen Eustaquio of Canada’s men’s national team. Photo by Nathan Holowaty for Top World Football

Alistair Johnston

Another key player emerging in 2021 was Alistair Johnston age 23, debuting for Canada in WCQ on March 25, 2021, against Bermuda. Johnston made 18 appearances in competitive matches for Canada in 2021. At the Gold Cup Johnston played all but half an hour of Canada’s five matches. Perhaps having the most potential of all the defensive players on the team Johnston is now a regular starter. One of his greatest contributions came towards the end of the first half in the WCQ match against Mexico in November. Johnston sent in a hard-driven shot on goal, which Mexico’s keeper couldn’t handle properly. The ball then rebounded directly towards Cyle Larin who slotted in the opening goal for Canada. Johnston’s club services were acquired by CF Montreal at the end of 2021 from fellow MLS side Nashville SC. 

Depth in the squad

In past incarnations of the Canadian men’s national team, falling short on options was an ongoing theme. Anyone playing at a big European club was almost certain to be named in the national team squad. That isn’t the case anymore, as manager John Herdman has plenty more options to choose from. When naming his WCQ squad, one name left off the list was Scott Arfield who’s a regular starter with Glasgow Rangers. Experience playing in the Europa League against recently defeated opponents such as Borussia Dortmund is extremely valuable. However, at age 33 Arfield’s best years are likely behind him. The depth of Canada’s attack makes Arfield playing for Canada again increasingly unlikely.

Elite prospects for Canada

In choosing to develop a younger squad, Herdman is keeping the future in mind. The 2022 World Cup is around the corner, however, most of the squad will still be around for the 2026 World Cup. Since Canada co-hosts that event, they will receive an automatic birth into the tournament. Finding long-term cohesiveness is vital for success if Canada wants to compete well on the international stage. Another young Canadian player Herdman has an eye on is Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, currently with Toronto FC. Marshall-Rutty age 17, is looking at options to play amongst Europe’s best clubs when he turns 18 this summer. Having recently trained with Liverpool and Arsenal, it’s only a matter of time before he plays for Canada. His participation in the 2026 World Cup is nearly assured if he continues on his path.                                           

Canadian soccer takes over CONCAFAC

Having last qualified for the World Cup in 1986, you can understand the doubt Canadian soccer fans may have about the latest qualifying campaign. Even with all the hype about Alphonso Davies, did anyone really see Canada as a legitimate threat in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying campaign? The depth of the Canadian squad has historically been questionable, however now it’s the other CONCACAF nations looking for answers to the depth of the Canadian attack. Unquestionably Alphonso Davies is the greatest player in CONCACAF and has been for the last couple of years, which is remarkable. However, ending the CONCACAF World Cup qualification campaign by winning the group was even more inspiring for Canada. 

The goal of the season

The turning point in WCQ for Canada was against Panama on October 13 at BMO Field. While not having lost in the first five games of qualifying, Canada had only defeated El Salvador. Going down 1-0 early against Panama, Canada knew they needed to take over the match to have any chance of qualifying for the World Cup. Then in the 66th minute, a magical moment in Canadian soccer history was made. Alphonso Davies dashed from his own end to rescue a ball from going out of bounds at the other half of the field. Dribbling the ball in solo, while executing perhaps the nicest goal in Canadian history put Canada in front 2-1. The team has never looked back, winning six straight matches in World Cup qualifying following that goal. Also to note Canada never went behind in a match until playing in Costa Rica on March 24.

Record-breaking performances for Canada against Mexico

After defeating Costa Rica 1-0 in Edmonton, Canada needed a very special performance to get a win against Mexico. Cyle Larin scored twice for Canada tying the record for most goals scored for Canada at 22. Larin did that in only 44 matches, an impressive feat considering Dwayne De Rosario needed 81 games to score 22. Larin is only 26 years and has plenty of time to get more. The Besiktas forward is one of four Canadians in the UEFA Champions League. It’s that type of experience, playing at the highest level of the sport that’s invaluable for Canada.     

Canada’s all-time leader in games played

When Larin’s Besiktas teammate Atiba Hutchinson came on in the 71st minute against Mexico, he became Canada’s most capped player of all time. This record-breaking performance saw Hutchinson age 38 appear in his 90th game for Canada. Hutchinson has recently turned 39 and is still playing at a spectacularly high level for that age. After playing through so many difficult years for Canada, it will be great to see Hutchinson cap off his career with a World Cup appearance.

More record-breaking performances for Canada

With Cyle Larin’s goal in the seventh minute of play against USA on January 30, he became Canada’s all-time leader in goals scored. That goal was all Canada needed to defeat the Americans and move four points clear of them in the qualification table. Topping the CONCACAF group while four points ahead of arch-rivals Mexico and USA is unprecedented. Canada ended their three-match window of World Cup qualification matches on February 2 with a third straight 2-0 victory. Playing away to Honduras and El Salvador, Canada had a couple of key goals from Jonathan David in those victories. What’s remarkable about Canada’s play is they are thriving even without their star player Alphonso Davies. 

Cyle Larin of Canada's Men's National Team

Cyle Larin of Canada’s men’s national team. Photo by Nathan Holowaty for Top World Football

An unlikely hero

One of the most outstanding players in the WCQ matches for Canada has been their goalkeeper Milan Borjan, age 34. Making amazing saves while holding six clean sheets in the 10 matches he’s played, Borjan’s veteran presence has been invaluable. Serving as captain of the squad, along with Atiba Hutchinson, Borjan is leading this team to the World Cup. Playing his club football for Red Star Belgrade since 2017, Borjan’s key performances for Canada have not gone unnoticed.                             

Canada achieves its highest ever position in the FIFA World Rankings

Canada ended 2021 tying its all-time best position in the FIFA World Rankings. Not since December 1996, had Canada’s men’s national team ranked number 40 in the world. A record of 13-2-4 in 2021 helped propel Canada up 32 positions from number 72 at the start of 2021. Canada received the most points, 130.32 in the FIFA World Ranking system in 2021. Leading FIFA to award Canada as the year’s “Most Improved Side”. Having a 55-11 goal differential shows how dominant this team has become. Their only losses in 2021 were at the Gold Cup to the USA and Mexico where Canada fell short in the semi-finals. Following three straight 2-0 victories in the Jan-Feb window of WCQ play, Canada rose to their all-time high of 33 in the FIFA World Rankings.

World Cup qualification for Canada

Canada has qualified for the 2022 FIFA World Cup while winning the CONCACAF World Cup qualification group. It’s an amazing feat for a team that was ranked 122 in the world less than eight years ago. With the World Cup draw complete, Canada will line up against three nations with plenty of World Cup experience. Opening the World Cup against Belgium, a team that’s topped the FIFA world rankings for most of the last few years will be a difficult task. If Canada can manage a draw against Belgium it would be considered a huge accomplishment. Canada’s second World Cup match will be against 2018 World Cup finalists Croatia. Although Croatia has plenty of talent, including the 2018 Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric, the team is well past their prime. Canada will be playing for a victory in this match and are quite capable of doing so.

Does Canada have a chance at the World Cup?

Canada’s final match of the group stage will be against Morocco, 24 in the FIFA World Rankings. This is another match Canada will likely have to win to progress in the World Cup. Canada has proved their competitiveness with victories over the USA and Mexico, teams that are ranked higher than Morocco and Croatia. Morocco, Croatia and Belgium have more key players at big clubs throughout Europe than Canada does, which will be challenging. However, Canada plays with a spirit of determination and togetherness that a well-groomed club team plays with. John Herdman has developed this Canadian team into a brotherhood that is very hard to beat. With the 2022 World Cup only months away, look for Canada to break into contention as a new soccer power. With this being the last World Cup with only 32 teams, look for Canada to become a perennial World Cup competitor.

About the Author /

[email protected]

Nathan Holowaty is a writer and blogger, with a passion for everything soccer-related. He is a lifelong soccer player and fan, helping to grow the sport in a positive manner. Nathan began working on Top World Football in early 2021.

Post a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.