A New Cycle Begins: 3 takeaways from the CanMNT's 1st squad since 2022 World Cup
For the first time in almost four months, the band is back together.
As expected, the Canadian Men’s National Team released their latest squad ahead of their next camp, which comes later this month when they’ll face Curaçao and Honduras in a pair of crucial CONCACAF Nations League games.
Their first camp since the 2022 World Cup, it’s a huge opportunity for Canada, who have had to sit still since they lost to Morocco 2-1 on December 1st to crash out of their long-awaited return to that tournament.
The good news is that the wait until their next World Cup will be nowhere near as long as the 36 years they had to wait for last year’s tournament, however, as they’ll be co-hosting the 2026 edition, meaning that for the first time in their history, they’ll play in back-to-back men’s World Cups.
Because of that, it means that every game between now and then will be all about preparing for that tournament, as they look to show that their trip to Qatar last year was just the beginning of what’s to come for them as a team, instead of just a small blip on the radar.
That begins with this camp, one that officially stands as the start of their journey toward 2026, marking a key milestone for this team.
Must-win games puts 2026 planning on hold, for now:
Yet, although this camp represents the first step in Canada’s journey toward the 2026 World Cup, it certainly doesn’t feel like it, however.
Usually, the first camp after a World Cup is a more lowkey affair, filled with a couple of friendly games, allowing teams to get a look at some new faces, beginning a slow and gradual transition towards the next cycle.
Unfortunately for Canada, however, they aren’t so lucky, as they instead begin their journey with two must-win games, with their clashes with Honduras and Curaçao coming as part of CONCACAF Nations League A action.
There, Canada will want to win those games to top their group and qualify for the Nations League semi-finals, as well as finish top two and qualify for the 2023 Gold Cup. Oh yeah, did we also mention that they’ll also need to do well in these games in order to qualify for the 2024 Copa América, of which 6 CONCACAF teams will be participating?
THE ROAD AHEAD 🇨🇦— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) February 28, 2023
Here's how the #CanMNT can qualify for the 2023 Concacaf Gold Cup and the 2024 Copa America via Concacaf Nations League ⚽
MORE DETAILS 👇https://t.co/plLLyU8EWj pic.twitter.com/odFKti8lQ3
Safe to say, there’s a lot of stake for Canada this camp, which is why veteran faces like Atiba Hutchinson, Steven Vitória and Milan Borjan are all in, as well as many of Canada’s top players, such as Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, Stephen Eustáquio and Tajon Buchanan.
They know what all of those factors mean to this team, as winning a first trophy since the 2000 Gold Cup would be huge, while playing in a Copa América would provide them with the sort of competitive tests that they need more of as a group, so they’re going out with the intention of not messing around this window.
“It’s the dawn of a new cycle, a new campaign, and that's always exciting,” CanMNT head coach, John Herdman, said on Thursday. “It's refreshing in many ways, I think having a bit of time post-World Cup with no January camp gave us time to breathe, to reflect and to review, to look forward to this next quadrennial in terms of our player pool.”
“But then the reality hits that we're still in competition; we're still in Nations League qualification games, which are important, not only to make the Gold Cup, not only for an opportunity to compete in the Nations League finals, but also for ranking points to ensure we remain in a top four spot heading into Copa América, so there’s so much to play for.”
“Sometimes, starting a new cycle, you get a couple of friendly games to really look at those players that were on the extended squads that Canada had put out over the last few years, but for us, it’s not to be, we have to pick up where we left off. We created a good foundation in the last quadrennial to give us a lot to build on moving forward, so selection in this camp was more about winning matches, about who’s fit, who’s not injured, and who’s at the level required to play against opponents like Curaçao or Honduras.”
First camp since World Cup provides a chance to apply learned lessons:
While Canada begins to look forward, they’ll also be eager to look back, as these games will also be the first chance for them to take what they learned from their participation at the World Cup last winter.
With 17 players in this latest squad who were also in Qatar, including 13 of them who are 27 and under, many of these players will be key to ensuring that Canada doesn’t only learn from those lessons, but takes them into the next World Cup cycle, one that many of those players will play a big role in.
Because of that, also look for Canada to look and show off some of what they learned at that World Cup in this camp. Of course, playing the likes of Honduras and Curaçao is very different from facing off against Belgium, Croatia and Morocco, but there is still a lot for Canada to glean from those games.
For example, they’ll want to prove that they can control games in midfield, and can be more ruthless in both boxes, while also finding a formation that can get the best out of their players.
Plus, they’ll have to get used to being a team to be feared in CONCACAF, instead of a team that used to fly under the radar. Having been a forgotten team for so long in CONCACAF, that partly helped them on their magical World Cup qualifying run, as they were able to surprise teams and catch them with their “New Canada”.
3 losses for the #CanMNT at this World Cup. Probably should've gotten a result in there, but alas, that's the margins of this level— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) December 1, 2022
Now, focus turns to 2026. As Canada showed in glimpses, they can hang at this level. Now, they need to clean up the small details to really compete
Now, the book is out on “New Canada”, so they’ll have to be able to adapt to a reality where they’re going to be the team that dictates proceedings, instead of adapting to what the opponent does.
If they can do that, it’ll be huge, helping them further stake their claim high up the slopes of the CONCACAF mountains, after having spent so much time near the bottom.
For what it’s worth, Herdman and his players seem to recognize that, as well, and will now look to put that into practice during this camp, as they look to put what they’ve had the chance to reflect about over the last 3.5 months into practice in these two games.
“Over the last three months, I've had a chance to connect with quite a few of them, and talk about the future, about the past what we've learned over the last four years, as well as understanding what we need to achieve over the next four years to get this country to the next level,” Herdman said. “We respect that it was a four-year process to lay a foundation, and hopefully we can all stand up now to reach another level in world football, another level of respect and another level of achievement.”
“The process of reconnecting has been going on for some time now, and I think in bringing these players in, there's a real energy that I'm sensing, a desire and a commitment to want to win things for Canada. So although we finished atop of CONCACAF in that journey, and that was something we were all privileged to be part of, we've got to ensure that there isn't any complacency going back into CONCACAF, because there's just no easy games, the conditions, the realities on how hungry these teams are to chase you now, as we’re the hunted, not the hunters, anymore.”
“There's a lot of added motivation (with that), but for this group, right at the core of it, they want to experience lifting a trophy for Canada and they want to experience winning and pushing up the rankings in the world. So those are some of the messages that I've heard from the players and why they're excited about coming back in, I think for all of us, it’s been too long now, we’ve had enough time to let the feelings from the World Cup go, and we’re just ready to go again.”
Injury concerns gives chance for new faces to step up:
Although Canada is bringing a rather veteran-heavy squad to this camp, that doesn’t mean that there are no new faces who are joining the fold for these games, however.
Due to a mix of injuries, form and other reasons, a few key faces were not called in for this camp, including Samuel Piette, Maxime Crépeau, James Pantemis, Lucas Cavallini, Junior Hoilett and Iké Ugbo, opening up room for some new faces on the roster.
As a result, newcomers Tom McGill and Victor Loturi are earning their first call-ups this camp, while Dominick Zator is returning for the first time since 2019, and Ayo Akinola is in just his second camp (and first official camp) since 2021.
Along with a return to the fold for Charles-Andreas Brym and Scott Kennedy, who missed out on the World Cup squad after several call-ups in 2022, it’s a good group of fresh faces from the World Cup, which Herdman will hope can push his squad.
In particular, McGill, Loturi and Zator are the ones to watch.
McGill probably won’t play this camp, as he’s the third-string goalkeeper, but the 22-year-old has come through the Brighton and Hove Albion FC academy, and currently plays for their U21 team in the PL2. Plus, he’s been called up to their Premier League side a few times to sit on the bench, even if he hasn’t had the chance to make his debut yet there, something that you imagine could change sooner rather than later.
Meanwhile, Loturi is an intriguing option in midfield, as the 21-year-old former Cavalry FC midfielder earned the nod after impressing in Scotland, where he quickly became a regular for Ross County after his transfer last summer, with performances against Celtic and Rangers standing out among the lot, in particular.
Lastly, Zator is a fellow Cavalry alumnus (as well as a York United alum), who has also shone since making a recent move to Polish side Korona Kielce, where he’s made the league’s TOTW on a couple of occasions after some strong performances at right back and as a right-sided centre back in a back three. He’s a bit older at 28, but at a position where players peak later, he’s very much in his prime, and will look to push toward becoming a regular in this Canadian fold.
John Herdman on calling up Dominick Zator and Victor Loturi.— Ben Steiner (@BenSteiner00) March 16, 2023
"These are players that have progressed out of our [CPL] and taken a risk to go over to Europe in those second and third-tier leagues and getting experiences where Canadians have often struggled."#CanMNT
Therefore, while Herdman might lament missing some key faces, it’ll certainly be intriguing to see how some of these new names do in this camp, especially if any of them impress enough to get a look in either of the two games.
“Yeah, we picked up a slate of injuries, which is pretty disappointing, over the last couple of weeks and yeah, it's obviously dented some of the player's opportunity to be here,” Herdman explained.