3 KEY takeaways from the CanMNT's squad for November Nations League tie vs. Jamaica
With the CanMNT back in action later this month, they officially revealed their latest squad ahead of that camp, announcing which 23 players will take on Jamaica in a pair of crucial matches on November 17th and 21st.
Coming as part of the Concacaf Nations League quarter-finals, it’s a huge set of games for Canada, as they also serve as qualifiers for the 2024 Copa América, too.
Because of that, Canada will look to take care of business this window, allowing them to guarantee qualification for that tournament, while also pushing them into the semi-finals of the Nations League for a second straight edition, giving them a chance to snap their 23-year trophy drought next March.
The good news? They do have some margin for error heading into these matches, because while a loss to Jamaica would eliminate them from a chance at lifting the Nations League trophy, they’d still have a second chance at qualifying for the Copa América in March.
But given that two of Canada’s biggest desires as a team are to experience lifting a trophy together, as well as playing more games against top qualification, winning in this window remains a must, given that it’d give them a chance to do the former next March, while providing them with a chance to do the latter given the calibre of the Copa América.
Therefore, while this might not *technically* be a must-win window, it sure feels like it, and Canada should treat it as such.
Especially given how frustrating of a year it’s been for this Canadian team, it would be a good chance for them to at least end off on a high note, too, putting them back into a pretty good position heading into the new year, where they’ll look to hit the reset button after this year.
If they’re to do that, however, they’ll need some big performances from the players that they called in.
Speaking of, here’s a look at what stood out from this squad release, as Canada gets set to begin their camp next week.
Canada stuck in mushy middle with squad selection:
When looking at this squad, the first big thing that stands out is the lack of clear direction that there seems to be with some of the player selections.
For example, when it comes to form, some options like Mathieu Choiniére and Jonathan Sirois were ignored in favour of some players who haven’t been getting minutes, which is a worry.
No Mathieu Choinière is a big surprise in that midfield, while up front Iké Ugbo continues to be ignored (although his form has been mixed, to say the least)— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) November 8, 2023
Overall, though, feels like this squad isn’t based enough on form and 2026 planning, as it should be
That’s a worry
Yet, some were rewarded for their form, as Ali Ahmed earned a call after some strong performances for the Vancouver Whitecaps, so it’s not as if all in-form players were ignored.
Another big thing that stood out is how veteran-heavy this squad is, with five players above 30, and 11 that are 28 or older. At the same time, there are some younger faces, with the 18-year-old Luc De Fougerolles standing out in that regard, although he and Ahmed are the only outfield players with less than 10 caps.
All of that to say, it’s hard to exactly say what this squad is supposed to represent, and more specifically, what direction Canada wants to go with this team at the moment.
Of course, it’s important to note that these pair of Jamaican games are crucial, no doubt. This window could have a massive impact for years to come - positively or negatively.
Because of that, it makes sense to go more veteran-heavy.
At the same time, Canada needs to plan for 2026 and look at players who can help them with that mission.
There’s a fine line to balance there, yes - you don’t want to rush younger players who aren’t ready to make this jump, especially into games of this magnitude, but on the other side of the coin, if you’re calling veterans, they should be in top form.
For example, the inclusion of Lucas Cavallini is a perfect example of Canada leaning veteran-heavy just to go veteran-heavy. A key leader on this team over the past few years, he’ll bring valuable experience, but in terms of his form, he has just one goal in around 350 minutes this season for Tijuana.
If Cavallini had scored four or five goals across 800+ minutes, it’d make sense to bring him in to take advantage of that form, but given his struggles, one can wonder if someone like an Iké Ugbo or Charles-Andreas Brym could make more sense to have gotten a call, especially that there’s a stronger chance of them playing at the 2026 World Cup.
And that’s the balance that feels like it is missing from this squad. At this stage, Canada should be rewarding those who are in form while still keeping an eye on 2026, and it feels like this squad doesn’t do enough of either.
For a Canadian team that has a lot of work to do ahead of 2026, especially if they want to compete, that’s a big worry.
How much can De Fougerolles, Ahmed bring?
As mentioned, however, this squad isn’t fully filled with veterans, as seven players are 24 or younger, including key regulars Tajon Buchanan, Jonathan David, Alphonso Davies and Ismaël Kone, while fellow regulars Derek Cornelius and Alistair Johnston aren’t ancient at 25, either.
Plus, there’s a pair of youngsters looking to push their way into that group going forward - the 23-year-old Ali Ahmed, and the 18-year-old Luc De Fougerolles.
To begin, there’s Ahmed, who is a deserved addition to this team, especially after he was left out in the last window.
Having capped off a fantastic season for the Whitecaps, where he played over 1500 minutes across all competitions, while putting in a strong showing at the Gold Cup for Canada, making his inclusion an exciting one.
Especially for a Canadian team light in the midfield, needing options who can step up and join the likes of Stephen Eustáquio and Koné as nailed-on starters, Ahmed is a name that can easily do that.
In particular, there are two strengths he’ll look to bring to the team - ball progression and defending.
First, in terms of ball progression, among MLS midfielders in 2023, he was 99th percentile in progressive carries, 91st percentile in take-ons, 71st percentile in progressive passes, 95th percentile in progressive passes received and 95th percentile in passes into the box, ticking a lot of key boxes there.
Then, defensively, he was 96th percentile in tackles won, 80th percentile in interceptions and 86th percentile in recoveries, showing a good ability to not sacrifice defence for offence, either.
You add in that he can make things happen in the final third, scoring three goals and sitting in the 90th percentile in shot-creating actions, 93rd percentile in non-penalty xG, 78th percentile in xA and 88th percentile in touches in the box, that’s a bonus, too.
Because of all of that, not only is he a key inclusion in this team, but he should have a genuine shot at starting games, too, as he could bring some nice balance to that Eustáquio and Koné pairing.
As for De Fougerolles, he’s a fascinating one, given that he’s the youngest on a team by a few years at 18.
Yet, he might be one of the most intriguing CanMNT prospects out there, as he’s had a strong start to the year, first bursting onto the scene with strong performances against English Premier League calibre teams in preseason, before recently making his first-team debut for Fulham in a cup match.
Especially given that he’s a centre back, arguably the biggest position of need for Canada, it’s made him a no-brainer inclusion in this squad, as he looks like someone who can help fill that hole for years to come.
He’s not the most imposing defender, but he’s excellent on the ball, which is his biggest calling card, but he’s also not looked out of place defensively in his appearances for Fulham in preseason and in that recent debut, showing good awareness and speed defensively.
And given his age, as well as that he’s only recently shifted into this centre back position after being more of a full back before, it’s hard not to imagine him growing a lot defensively going forward, while continuing to refine his strong ball-playing skills.
Because of that, there’s a lot to like from a Canadian perspective, as he’s the exact sort of modern defender that they’ve been missing for a while now, both in terms of his ball-playing and his defensive profile.
That’s why he’s one to watch, as while he might not start this camp, hopefully he can see the field, giving a chance him to prove why he’s one to watch for the future, while also provisionally cap-tying him to Canada for three years (which would be a nice bonus).
Luc De Fougerolles had a solid first-team debut for Fulham against Ipswich in the EFL Cup today. Fought some early nerves to grow in confidence playing at RCB— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) November 1, 2023
57/63 passes (90%)
2/7 long balls
5/8 duels won
2 fouls won#CanMNT pic.twitter.com/2Cw2ihjSMh
Might form be a worry for starters?
Lastly, the big thing to keep an eye out for will be what the starting XIs for both of these games might look like, both in terms of formation and player selection.
Especially when it comes to picking those in form, it could lead to some interesting decisions, given that some key regulars have either not played a lot for their clubs as of late, or have had their seasons over for a couple of weeks now.
For what it’s worth, expect there to be more of a veteran-heavy presence, seeing that Biello did note in his press conference that Milan Borjan will likely be in goal for both games.
At the same time, that’ll lead to some interesting battles at other positions, such as at centre back, in midfield and up front.
To start, at centre back, usual CanMNT regular Steven Vitória has struggled in Portugal this season, so does he start ahead of an in-form Derek Cornelius and Kamal Miller (although Miller not playing a game for a couple of weeks with Inter Miami’s playoff elimination also adds another layer to that discussion).
Or in midfield, who starts alongside Eustáquio and Koné? Form suggests Ahmed could be a favourite, but from an experience perspective, Jonathan Osorio and Samuel Piette could make more sense. Yet, given that the latter two are both on teams who also didn’t make the MLS Cup playoffs, they also haven’t seen the field in a while and could be rusty.
Lastly, up front, Jonathan David and Cyle Larin have struggled to score this season, as Larin has just one goal for Mallorca (coming in the Copa Del Rey against a sixth-tier side), while David has just four goals this season, and only one since August. David will still start, as he should, but might Larin join him, or could someone new slot in alongside him? (or is there a formation change from the 3-5-2 and David starts on his own?)
Those are just some of the questions that Biello will have to answer, making for some tough discussions across the board.
Mauro Biello talks about today's #CanMNT squad:— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) November 8, 2023
"I selected the players that I wanted. I went with a group that's been in these moments before, a group of players that have a strong brotherhood, who have gone through a lot, and have been able to react in pressure moments."
Based on the composition of this squad, it looks like he’ll go more veteran-heavy, but that could be dangerous to do against a good Jamaican side.
Yet, that just extends the worry that was mentioned in the first section - the make-up of this squad feels lacking in an identity, which could have an impact on the team that goes out there in this window, one that’s so crucial for so many reasons.