CANADIANS ABROAD: Who the heck is Tom McGill? Ashley Lawrence on the move?
It was the surprise of the week.
An uncapped goalkeeper, playing in the Brighton & Hove Albion system, earning his first-ever CanMNT call-up? Enter Tom McGill, the latest fresh face to earn a call for Canada, as he made the team’s latest roster ahead of their Nations League games later this month.
Of course, anyone who knows John Herdman maybe shouldn’t have been surprised, as the Canadian manager always fancies adding a bit of shock factor to his squad announcements, but even to the most passionate CanMNT fans, there’s no doubt that McGill certainly came out of nowhere to make this squad.
Because of that, it leads to the most important question - who is Tom McGill, and where does he fit into the impressive crop of U23 goalkeepers that Canada has quietly been building?
Here’s more on that, and a few of the other big stories dominating the Canadian soccer landscape this week.
McGill earns first call-up for CanMNT
One of the most exciting young teams in the Premier League, and arguably all of Europe, Brighton & Hove Albion has become a team to watch due to their strong record of developing some top-class players in recent years.
Because of that, it was intriguing to see that if you peeked at the team’s Premier League 2 roster, you’d find a starting goalkeeper with a birthplace familiar to most Canadian fans - Oakville, Ontario.
Yet, despite being born in Ontario, McGill moved to England at a young age, where he grew up playing soccer. As a result, he joined Brighton’s academy at 14, back when the club was still in the Championship, and yet to become the talent factory that they’re known for today.
Since then, McGill has slowly progressed through the ranks at Brighton, first cracking their U18 squad as a 16-year-old in 2016, before progressing to their U23 squad (which recently became a U21 squad) in 2020. Along with loan stints to lower-league sides Greenwich Borough, Basingstoke Town and EFL League 2 side Crawley Town, it was a busy couple of years for McGill, as he really tried to get established at Brighton.
It would start to pay off, however, as he then really started to get his feet in the door at Brighton in 2021. There, he began to play for their U23 side, and impressed while doing so, even earning a call to sit on the Premier League’s side bench for a game against Liverpool that year, an honour he’d repeat a couple of months later when he made his side’s bench against Arsenal.
Building off that, he then became a regular in goal for Brighton’s U23s in 2021-2022 as a 21-year-old, where he made 18 appearances in all competitions for the side, while also making the bench of the first team on five occasions, including for games against Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham.
As a result, he entered the 22/23 season filled with confidence, having climbed up the ranks to be Brighton’s third goalkeeper behind Spanish international Robert Sánchez and Jason Steele, often training with the first team.
Because of that, his PL2 minutes dipped, as he spent most of the time with the first team, although that has changed lately, as he’s played three of the last five games for Brighton’s U21s (for those unfamiliar, the PL2 allows goalkeepers to be over U21, and allows up to five non U21 players per game).
Therefore, it really feels like McGill is at a key point in his development. About to turn 23 later this month, he’s now got over 30 PL2 appearances under his belt, to go along with 30 more appearances at the U18 Premier League level, and is clearly well-regarded in the Brighton goalkeeper hierarchy.
With his contract up this year, it’ll be intriguing to see if he now sticks around, as Sánchez and Steele both have contracts until 2025, or if he heads elsewhere to try and become a first-team regular, potentially at a level such as the Championship or EFL League 1, for example.
Either way, at an age that is still very young for a goalkeeper, there’s no doubt that he’s about to really break out, making it an intriguing time for him.
A good candidate for this window’s edition of the most interesting #CanMNT call-up: Tom McGill.— Tristan D'Amours (@tristandamours) March 16, 2023
Goalkeeper in the Brighton academy since he was 14. He’s currently on their U23 team in the Premier League 2.
Played with England’s U17s & U20s pic.twitter.com/vGdYnffjp9
And that helps explain his call-up to Canada this window. Herdman has often noted in the past that when he feels a young tier-one player is close to breaking out, he likes to give them a call to both see them in the CanMNT environment and give them a boost at the club level, and given McGill’s status as a third goalkeeper in a tier-one club, he certainly fits that description.
So although he’s unlikely to see the field this camp, this is a smart move for Canada. Especially given that McGill has over 10 appearances at the youth levels for England, this is also an opportunity to show commitment to a dual-national, on top of the other reasons mentioned.
Yet, McGill is just the latest intriguing goalkeeping prospect for the CanMNT to keep an eye on, as the post-Milan Borjan era seems more than set in goal for them.
Already blessed with two of the best MLS goalkeepers in Maxime Crépeau and Dayne St.Clair, as well as fellow MLS goalkeepers James Pantemis, Thomas Hasal and Jonathan Sirois, McGill is another piece to add to a quickly growing pool.
Plus, more could be on the way, as PL2 goalkeepers Owen Goodman and Chituru Odunze, of Crystal Palace and Leicester City, respectively, are also ones to watch, without mentioning the wave of young goalkeepers that are set to emerge at the CPL and in MLS academy systems in the years to come.
Safe to say, the position that has arguably always been Canada’s position of strength is showing no signs of slowing down, and McGill’s call-up is just the latest indication of that.
Ashley Lawrence set to make big summer move?
Could Ashley Lawrence be set to leave PSG this year?
According to Le Parisien, that seems to be a genuine possibility, as they reported this week that Lawrence will not renew her PSG contract this summer. Citing a “less than ideal” relationship with PSG’s coach, Gérard Prêcheur, as well as the potential of finding a new challenge, it certainly would be a big blow for PSG, as Lawrence has quietly been one of the best full backs, if not the best, in the world for a couple of seasons now.
Having been at the club for six seasons, after joining at the beginning of 2017 as a 22-year-old, it’d be a big move for the now 27-year-old, who will have no shortage of suitors for her services, with Chelsea, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and the San Diego Wave already emerging as teams who are interested in the Olympic gold medallist.
One would only expect that list to grow, too, so there’s no doubt that this is a dossier to watch as the summer nears. Much like when Kadeisha Buchanan became a free agent last year, with the five-time Champions League winner choosing to leave Lyon for Chelsea after being heavily courted by a whole host of clubs, a potential Lawrence move could be a similar boon for the market.
When looking at the potential clubs, Chelsea looks to be an early favourite, as they’re a force domestically and have fellow Canadians Buchanan and Jessie Fleming in their midst, while Barcelona is also an intriguing option given their perch as one of the best sides in the world right now.
For now, however, Lawrence will keep her focus on the rest of the season with PSG, who still have a lot to play for themselves. Just one point off Lyon in the league, and into the semi-finals of the Coupe De France and the quarter-finals of the Champions League, they still remain in the hunt for a treble.
And what a way to go out would that be for Lawrence, who as it stands, would exit PSG having won just one league title and two Coupe de France trophies, as well as a Champions League runners-up medal, as PSG has been left to play second fiddle to Lyon for most of Lawrence’s tenure.
The same way that Buchanan left Lyon fresh off a league title and Champions League win, Lawrence will be eager to repeat the same feat, before embarking on her next chapter.
Ahead of what is supposed to be a huge World Cup for Lawrence and Canada, who are expected to be among the favourites, it promises to be a big year for the full back, who will look to further prove her credentials as one of the best at her position, remaining severely underrated despite her strong play.
Derek Cornelius climbing CanMNT depth chart after Malmö move
It’s been a rollercoaster of a last few years for Derek Cornelius.
Back in 2019, he could do wrong, arguably sitting as Canada’s best centre back option, as well as a regular for the Vancouver Whitecaps. But then, that quickly changed, as he fell out of favour in Vancouver, and as a result, he lost his spot for Canada with the emergence of fellow centre back options Kamal Miller and Scott Kennedy.
As a result, he’s played just one game for Canada since the start of 2021, coming in the fall of 2021 when he started and kept a clean sheet for Canada in a World Cup qualifier against Jamaica. Other than that, he’s had to settle for sitting on the bench in most games, a role that he also held at the World Cup.
Yet, despite that, he’s quietly been grinding at the club level, and it’s about to really pay off for him. After a successful loan stint at Greek side Panetolikos, where he went from out of the CanMNT picture altogether to a regular squad participant, that paved the way for a big transfer this offseason, as he joined Swedish giants Malmö FF on a transfer from the Whitecaps.
There, he quickly hit the ground running for his new side, playing four out of four possible games to begin the year in Svenska Cup action, while even scoring a goal for good measure. Ahead of the start of the Allsvenskan on April 1st, that bodes very well for Cornelius, who’s expected to play a big role for Malmö as they look to win their third title in four years, after winning in 2020 and 2021.
Derek Cornelius opens his Malmö FF account 🎯— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) March 5, 2023
Big game today from Cornelius, who scored a crucial 89th-minute winner in the Svenska Cupen to push Malmö atop their group
Great header from him, as keeps up his strong start with his new club#CanMNTpic.twitter.com/S92v0jdoIs
Along with a potential return to European action, which a strong league season would allow them to do in 2024-2025, there’s no doubt that there’s a lot for Cornelius to accomplish with Malmö, which is why his transfer to the club was so exciting.
After a couple of seasons grinding for a relegation-threatened Panetolikos in Greece, this move will really allow the 25-year-old to prove himself in a title-winning environment, one that can only be good for his personal development.
And the CanMNT will stand to profit from that. With main centre back option Kamal Miller fighting an injury, and backup option Scott Kennedy fighting for form after some injury woes, it feels like Cornelius will get a good look this camp.
There, he’ll have every chance to prove that he deserves to start more for Canada this World Cup qualifying cycle, grabbing the role many thought he’d play on Canada’s run to the 2022 World Cup.
For a team that showed some defensive frailties at the World Cup, a potential partnership of Cornelius and Miller, for example, could be a nice duo, one that helps Canada with some of those defensive woes, providing them with a good combination of aerial prowess, tackling and ball progression.
Because of that, heading into this Canada camp, Cornelius stands out as a name to watch, and his start to life with Malmö is a big reason why.