Breaking down Canada’s 2022 World Cup Squad

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Canada has officially announced the squad for their first World Cup since 1986, and fans of Canadian soccer will be happy to hear that all of the big names have made the cut. Doneil Henry serves as the only major omission after his latest injury set-back, but even he appears to be set to join the squad in Qatar from the sidelines. So with that, we break down John Herdman’s squad heading into a historic World Cup, and what to expect from the Canadians in Qatar.

GOALKEEPERS

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Milan Borjan will be the man to start in between the posts for the Red and Whites, and at the age of 35 is a tremendous leader for his national side. Even in his mid-thirties, Borjan has played 62 matches for Red Star Belgrade across the calendar year, the most of any Canadian keeper. In that time, he’s kept an incredible 33 clean sheets, conceded just 0.58 goals per game, and boasting a post-shot XG +/- of 6.88. A capable shot stopper and organizer at the back, Borjan lacks the same legs to get across the grass as someone slightly his junior, and so this may change how Canada play within their defensive set-up.

Maxime Crépeau is the unlucky name to miss out as Borjan’s back-up, after suffering a broken leg in the MLS Playoff Final last weekend.

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Beyond Borjan, Crépeau is likeliest the best with the ball at his feet, boasting up the most passes into the final third, long passes per 90, and forward passes of the three MLS keepers in contention. But alas, he will miss the tournament.

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Instead of the LAFC keeper, Canada will go into the tournament with the impressive 25-year-old Dayne St. Clair. St. Clair’s an excellent shot-stopper, boasting up a post-shot XG +/- of 6.9, with a 71.2% save percentage. He played a pivotal role in helping Minnesota squeak into the playoffs, and unlike the next player, put up some serious minutes this season. James Pantemis enters the frame as a valiant replacement for Crépeau, despite never appearing for Herdman’s team. He boasts the top passing percentage of any Canadian keeper (89%), including completing 85% of his forward passes and 67% of his long passes. Should he somehow be called upon, this will allow Canada the ease of access to play out from the back with confidence and bravado.

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Pantemis is also the most drastically different from the others, and the sweepiest of all if Herdman wants to opt for more of a ‘Sweeper Keeper’ in behind his defense. While this is an unlikely approach, Pantemis’ ability to spring off his line would be an asset. In fact, with 1.73 defensive actions outside the penalty area in 2022, the 25-year-old ranks in the top six sweepiest keepers in Major League Soccer. Having been a back-up to Sebastian Breza for most of the season, Pantemis is also used to the back-up role, and will relish the opportunity to be with the squad in Qatar.

DEFENDERS

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Although Herdman loves the 4-4-2, a back-three would also be a likely feature at the World Cup, so picking the right variety of defenders is critical to the process. Steven Vitória‘s been another leader at the back for the Canadian team, having now been part of the set-up for six years. The 35-year-old defender lacks the same mobility to cope with speedy attackers in transition, but like Borjan, is an incredible organizer and leader at the back for Herdman’s side. Alistair Johnston will be one of the undeniable starters in the back-line, and can play on the right-side of a back-three or at right-back in either a four or five.

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His versatility extends so far that he even played as a wing-back this season for CF Montreal in a Canada-esque 3-5-2 formation, putting up a remarkable 4 goals and 4 assists. Conveniently for Canada, two of his compatriots slotted into the outside-centre-back roles instead – Joel Waterman and Kamal Miller.

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Waterman earns his selection after a couple of decent seasons for Montreal, and will serve as a great replacement for Doneil Henry and Scott Kennedy should he accumulate minutes. Kamal Miller will however be the man to start more matches, as one of the most impressive dueling artists in the side. Both are capable progressors and confident on-the-ball, which will aid Canada’s ability to play out from the back. Miller completed 6.94 passes into the final third in 2022, and won nearly 70% of his 2.04 attempted dribbles per 90. Since both are familiar with each other and familiar with playing in a back-three, they could turn out to be vital to the Canadian set-up.

Miller possesses much of what made Scott Kennedy such a vital asset to Canada, but the Jahn Regensburg defender will still be a miss for Herdman’s team.

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He’s won the most defensive duels of any Canadian defender in 2022 (71.7%), and excels in positioning himself to clear the ball out of danger. Between Vitoria’s reading of the game, and the expert timing of Kamal Miller, Canada should have enough to not miss Kennedy or Doneil Henry too dearly. Then there’s Derek Cornelius from Panetolikos, whose defensive dueling rate compares nicely to Kennedy’s (69.9%), and has the versatility to play left-back if required.

As for the fullbacks, Canada boasts an impressive duo that would compete well with most national sides in the world.

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Richie Laryea is one of the keys to success for Herdman’s team, as a dynamic, up-and-down wing-back. He’s exceptional on the ball, can play on either side of the defense, and even handles his own in 1v1 duels. As a progressive runner and key passer in the final third, Laryea will be integral in all aspects of Canada’s World Cup run. Samuel Adekugbe performs the same role on the other side of defense, and excels in transitional moments where he can immediately enact his speed and precision. He’s a capable crosser and sublime long-passer, offering something slightly different than the exceptional short passing of Laryea as he drives inside.

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If Herdman opts for a back-four, Johnston will likely start on the right instead, as Laryea shifts into the midfield or plays on the left. Tajon Buchanan’s ability to play as a wing-back gives Canada another excellent option, ensuring they have strength in numbers at the back.

MIDFIELDERS

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Canada’s key threats throughout the team might be out wide, but they still boast a host of impressive midfield warriors. I’m pleased for Liam Fraser, and Toronto FC missed him dearly this season. An accomplished forward passer, no Canadian midfielder completed more progressive passes, forward passes, long passes, or a greater length their long passes across the pitch in 2022. He’s supremely capable on the ball, a confident, imposing presence in midfield, and highly active on the defensive end. But he’s also unlikely to start, given the quality of Canada’s midfielders. The man that will instead run the show from midfield is Stephen Eustáquio – the feature of our latest player analysis.

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Eustáquio‘s been playing every week for Portuguese giants FC Porto at the top of the Primeira Liga and UEFA Champions League, in a box-to-box role that’s gotten the best out of his creativity and dynamism in the final third. But he’ll likely play as more of a ‘Deep-Lying Playmaker’ for Canada, dictating the tempo of their matches from the ‘6’ slot. If not, Atiba Hutchinson could be imperative to the team even at the old age of 39.

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The six-time Canadian Player of the Year remains the team’s captain and a surprising engine for the team despite his age, sometimes even playing that more active pressing role as Eustáquio screens in behind. Hutchinson can also play as a centre-back in any of the team’s formations, providing more versatility within Herdman’s ranks. Samuel Piette offers many similar qualities to Hutchinson from a midfield destroying role, and is simultaneously one of the best progressors in the team. Built like an ox, he even captained Montreal on more than a few occasions this season, showcasing the leadership and experience he will bring from the bench.

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But given the quality around him, Piette may only play a bit-part role. The same could be said in more unfortunate circumstances for Jonathan Osorio, who was one of the figureheads to Canada’s qualifying success alongside Stephen Eustáquio. Osorio’s another player who can fulfill a variety of roles for Canada, as a ’10’, on either wing, or where he’s most familiar – as a box-to-box ‘8’. This would mean Eustáquio plays more as a true ‘6’ in the team if Osorio’s fit, allowing the TFC man to gallop forward and join attacking moves.

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No Canadian player completed more of their passes into the final third (86.2%) or penalty area (70.0%) than the 30-year-old in 2022, making him an integral line-breaker for his national side. He would feature either from the start or as a sub in every game if fit, so Herdman will be hoping to have the TFC man as more than just a leader in the dressing room.

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That means Ismaël Koné and Mark-Anthony-Kaye look the likeliest to start alongside Eustáquio. Kaye is one of the most active in throwing himself into defensive duels, with 4.15 tackles + interceptions per 90 in 2022. Koné is more of a formidable box-to-box presence, capable of dribbling his way out of trouble and contributing to attacks in the final third. Despite the evident qualities of both players, Jonathan Osorio will be a big miss if he’s not fully fit for the tournament, and Herdman might opt for the master of timing in Atiba Hutchinson instead.

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The final selection in midfield went to a Scotsman David Wotherspoon, who made his debut for Canada back in 2018, having never been to the country. Having recently recovered from an ACL injury, Wotherspoon’s started just 2 matches so far for St. Johnstone in the Scottish Premiership. Herdman would have likely taken another defender if given the choice of Henry or Kennedy, but also could have proactively incorporated someone younger like Victor Loturi into the midfield set-up earlier in the year. Personally, I probably would have gone for a more natural back-up at left-back in Raheem Edwards or Cristián Gutiérrez, but perhaps Wotherspoon’s age adds more experience to the side and another positive voice in the dressing room.

FORWARDS

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The ‘forwards’ in the side possess plenty of pace and power, and even a fair bit of versatility for Canada to use to their advantage. That first comes in the form of the electric Alphonso Davies and Tajon Buchanan, who could play as wingers or wing-backs in a 3-4-3 formation. In a 4-4-2, the presence of both Davies and Buchanan could mean Laryea starts in defense, allowing the Canadians to double-up down his side and overload the attack. After a wonderful time with New England, Buchanan’s enjoyed a positive start to his career with Club Brugge in Belgium, improving his defensive numbers along the way.

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You won’t be surprised to hear that Alphonso Davies is the man with the most successful defensive actions per 90 (9.23) in 2022 of the Canadian ‘forwards’, winning nearly 69% of his defensive duels. Reading midfielder Junior Hoilett is also a proactive presser and solid in the defense, and can play in the same positions – either on the wing or as a ’10’. If Herdman opts for a system with natural wingers like a 3-4-2-1 or 4-4-2, those three will compete with Richie Laryea and Jonathan Osorio for the starting births. But with their dynamism on the dribble, the variety they inject in attacking play, and the pure class they offer in possession, Davies and Buchanan have to be nailed-on starters in any system.

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There’s an equal amount of competition up top, where Canada could play with a front-two in either a 3-4-1-2 or 4-4-2. Cyle Larin and Jonathan David will be two more of the nailed-on starters in the side, but the Canadians have a host of solid back-up striking options in Liam Millar, Lucas Cavallini, and Troyes newboy Iké Ugbo. Jonathan David‘s scored an insane 23 goals in 55 appearances across the calendar year for LOSC Lille, nearly a goal every other game on both xG and actual output.

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An impressive dribbler and sublime presser, David will be one of the keys to success for the Canadians, and most likely the man in form in front of goal. But Larin also had an impressive qualifying campaign, scoring 17 goals in 23 appearances for his national side between 2021 and 2022. He’s gone a bit quieter since joining Buchanan in Bruges, but offers the ‘Target Man’ level threat to serve David’s powerful running in behind.

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Cavallini’s tally of 17 goals in 33 appearances for Canada is also immensely impressive, and puts him in poll position to be a frequent back-up from the bench. More of a dynamic ‘Channel Runner’ than a pure target like Larin, Cavallini’s always hungry out of possession, and endeavours to press from the front to win the ball back for his team.

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Iké Ugbo and Liam Millar are the younger names still yet to score for their national side, and will be hoping that this is their year after starting 2022 in impressive form for SC Troyes and FC Basel respectively. Millar’s more of a wide creator who enjoys dribbling past his opposition, whilst Ugbo is a decent passer, presser, and efficient with his finishing (26% goal conversion). They will be firm back-ups for John Herdman within his plans, but decent options nevertheless.

PREDICTED STARTING XI

With just about everyone fit at once, John Herdman has a selection headache on his hands. His first decision will be in selecting a formation, whether that be the 4-4-2 that brought them success in qualifying, or some combination within a back-three. Selecting someone to compliment the passing class of Stephen Eustáquio is perhaps the other major balancing act within his starting XI, and that could be more of an attacking force like Osorio, or a defensive warrior like Mark-Anthony Kaye. Given Osorio’s fitness, Kaye seems like the likeliest option, although Atiba Hutchinson’s cool head in the first few matches could be vital.

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Even then, our selected XI fails to allow space for Sam Adekugbe at the back, a man who’s made 22 appearances for his national side since the start of 2021. However, this would allow for the insane wide-left combination of Alphonso Davies and Richie Laryea to support the attack, as Johnston holds his position as more of a defensively-minded fullback. In a back-three, Johnston and Laryea must start once more, and could be selected ahead of Adekugbe again, especially in Herdman’s quest to fit Laryea, Davies and Buchanan into the same team. With Kennedy and Henry both out, the weak spot might only be at centre-back, where Kamal Miller still provides the assurance of someone who could easily be playing in a top-five league at this point in his career.

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A selection headache is exactly what Herdman would want heading into the World Cup, and so many of his players could fulfill a variety of roles in a variety of formations. This helps to make Canada one of the most tactically flexible and complex teams in the tournament, even despite their own rigidness and organization at the back. Canada became a tough nut to crack in qualifying as they topped the CONCACAF table, and will be a difficult opponent for the likes of Belgium, Croatia and Morocco. It all starts next week, and we can’t wait to see Canada at their first World Cup since 1986.


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So there it is! Our breakdown of the Canadian Men’s National Team ahead of the 2022 World Cup. Be sure to check out more of our content on this Canadian team, and follow on social media via the links below to never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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